August 2017

by Marshall Chapman

Photograph by Anthony Scarlati

I never really thought about sex growing up. A neighborhood boy tried to explain it to me one time when I was about nine years old, but it all sounded so gross my mind just wouldn’t go there. This was South Carolina during the Eisenhower years. And as I observed the adults around me, I got the impression sex was for men to enjoy and women to endure. Then along came television and Julie London.

I was a young teenager when I first saw Julie London sing “The Marlboro Song” on TV. The ad was shot in black and white and set in a swank nightclub. The hour is late. Close to closing time. The tables are empty except for one—a cozy table-for-two where Julie London is seated across from a man in a dark suit. She’s wearing an evening gown that’s mostly strapless. The gauzy fabric draping off her left shoulder gives the impression that Julie London is a gift in the early stages of being unwrapped.

“Why don’t you settle back … “ she sings in her inimitable smoky voice, as she offers the ruggedly handsome man-in-the-dark-suit a Marlboro. Later, when he lights her cigarette, she looks him right in the eye. (This is hard to do. When my teen-aged girlfriends and I would try this, we often missed the flame, sometimes burning our hands.)

“Why don’t you settle back … “

Is this an invitation? Or a threat.

“You get a lot to like with a … Marlboro.”

The first time I heard that line, my young imagination kicked into high gear.

A lot of WHAT to like? I wondered.

Whatever it was, it had to be fantastic.

It’s interesting to note, not once in the ad do Julie London and this man touch. The closest they come to touching occurs in the last line—”Filter … flavor … pack or box.” At the word “filter,” the camera zooms in on Julie London’s cigarette ash just as she flicks it on his ash. Oh. My. God.

At this point, only one thing is certain. Whatever Julie London and this man do after they finish smoking … it will not be something to be endured.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit

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